VOL.2 DIALOG IN THE FOG
Shiga: You always say, “What’s important is not coexistence but symbiosis.” While it seems easy to understand your idea, I can’t quite grasp the meaning.
Onodera: To put it in extreme terms, it’s ultimately about us humans having too much power. I think the area that is beyond human reach should increase and expand, and humans should return to the position where they too can be eaten. All we have to do is stop pretending that we rule this earth. This is putting it a bit extremely, but it’s just about the numbers of deer and wild boar increasing, and then bears coming out and eating humans. Don’t make a big deal out of that. It’s only natural for bears to attack humans. Don’t ask a hunting club to get rid of, kill, or chase them away. We have to understand that we humans too can be eaten sometimes. If you are weak, it’s only natural that you are eaten and eliminated, right? Each human being is really weak. We pretend to be powerful as a group. But please understand that I’m not trying to reject civilization.
Shiga: Is it right to think that wild animals are always in a symbiotic relationship?
Onodera: I think that symbiosis means living in the same place and offering each other mutual benefits. While a symbiotic relationship among animals varies from case to case, it’s undoubtedly related to plants, water, soil, and microorganisms too. It’s a very complex thing. When it comes to us humans right now, the way we live is at a level that is not equal with animals at all. Speaking of the relationship between deer and myself, I live in an area where hunting by humans has a big impact on wild animals. We are currently taking too much from nature.
Shiga: For you, the word “coexistence” is always accompanied by “co-prosperity.” You say that you have a feeling for wild animals that is close to faith, even though you go into the mountains and shoot deer. I would like to know how you reconcile this with your emotions as a human being.
Onodera: I can’t be a wild animal and the only thing I can do is to physically approach them while always wondering in the woods what I would do if I were a deer or pheasant. The ecology of wild animals is so powerful that it makes you worship it. This feeling was even stronger when I started hunting fifteen years ago. But since I started doing “vermin extermination,” I have become numb and senseless. We are hunting way too much. Nowadays, there are some people who start exterminating deer by placing traps, which are less regulated than firearms, to make a fast buck. I don’t want people to hunt like it’s a part-time job. Humans can survive without eating deer. While a wild boar also used to be food, it’s now considered “vermin,” so people say we’ve got to kill it. To make matters even worse, as the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster extended to the Oshika Peninsula, we faced the possibility of not being able to eat wild boar. I was already depressed because of the vermin extermination and that incident was like the last, painful nail in the coffin. It’s just gut-wrenching not to be able to consume the life of what you yourself caught.
Shiga: Here at FERMENTO, a facility for butchering and processing deer meat, you can see the process of taking apart and aging deer meat after it is hunted. Every time I come here, I go home thinking about what my current life is based on and what I eat each day.
Onodera: Catching and killing wild animals in order to eat their meat came to be considered barbaric, yet we didn’t stop eating meat and rather made the process of killing animals invisible to consumers. The history of livestock culture is old, but animals raised for meat are wrapped in plastic and sold at supermarkets with the process of killing them hidden. Human beings have continued to eat animals even though we are fully aware of the life-or-death power we have over living things and how many internal organs come out of their stomachs. Selling and eating meat without showing that process lacks appreciation; it’s like cheating yourself. Meat is not an easy source of nutrition that you can eat every day. It used to be something we could only eat on a special occasion. It shouldn’t be a protein source that you can buy easily at the supermarket.
Shiga: Constantly logging forests and trapping wild animals led to virus infections and these have spread around the world, killing many people all over the globe, especially those whose living and working conditions are the harshest. Throughout 2020, I was overwhelmed by how more tragedy will continue to occur unless we stop prioritizing the economy.
Onodera: We used to receive only a small amount of nature’s life and resources, but the need to exchange what we receive from nature emerged as we settled down, and the economy became a monster. Nowadays, you can make profit—invisible profit—without much effort. We live in a world where people make money without much violence. It’s odd to say “back in the day,” but we have to remember how hard it was to get animal meat and how we had to squeeze our wisdom and skills out of our bodies with each attempt. Human wisdom must encompass experience and a history of failure, but we are now in a state where what we do is somewhat superficial and going around in circles. People have desires and pride, even someone like me. I think we have this tendency to ask for the impossible. Well, I know I can talk about a utopian vision like this because I stay in the mountains and wilderness.
Shiga: Every time I learn and get to know about the history of the relationship between human society and the natural environment, I feel like strong warnings have always been given. When I first read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in junior high school, I became insanely scared. Now I think about it, such warnings might have slightly slowed down the speed of natural destruction. When it comes to our spiritual and cultural aspects, through staring at the deaths of humans and animals alongside such warnings and continuing to struggle, profound expression was perhaps undertaken. Yet the real problem—our unbridled society—couldn’t be stopped. That’s why every time a big disaster hits us, a lot of animals, humans, and plants die, and we seem awakened for a moment by the strong cosmic force that pulls us back, but in trying to get over it, we end up just pursuing things with more safety, cleanliness, and abundance, and then stray off course. I myself have been struggling while harried by my immediate lifestyle. Like the instinct to protect the lives of children, the structure of human society that prioritizes protecting only human lives has always been a cover.
Onodera: The topic is too big and I can’t really narrow it down. In the end, what I’m saying is very romantic. But to put it simply, it comes down to whether we think from the perspective of humans or that of animals.
Shiga: When I come into contact with your anger, I get scared that I don’t even have that feeling.
Onodera: As I live by taking what I eat from nature that is finite, I’m responsible for keeping a natural environment where I can at least eat. If we take any more, far from symbiosis, animals will become extinct. I don’t use the word “conservation,” but if we take any more, animals will no longer be able to live. Where can they go after we drive them out? Because animals are smart and adaptable, especially deer, they will survive by whatever means necessary through changing their eating habits in various ways. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Since the previous things are now gone and to avoid extinction, deer are adapting to very narrow eating habits in order to maintain the species, which I think means deer are slowly heading toward extinction if we take an overview of the situation. A great many plants have disappeared in recent years and there are only a few species left. For example, let’s say thirty years ago, we had three hundred different kinds of plants, but this decreased to two hundred kinds twenty years ago and then to a hundred kinds ten years ago. And now, I’m not sure if there are fifty or seventy kinds of plants left. All I can say is that it has been going on like this.
Shiga: You said that in the forest, living organisms and plants have phases.
Onodera: We also see new plants increasing, and this means that some plants are invasive. It’s the same as rise and fall. Whatever remains, remains and whatever goes extinct, goes extinct. Nothing lasts forever. As for how many years a plant lasts, the span changes about every five to ten years. In other words, we are driving this kind of cycle into a corner. The easiest example is the Canadian goldenrod, which long ago was very invasive but it ultimately died due to its own poison. This often happens and when one plant becomes too dominant, it will go extinct as a result of its power growing too much. The same thing can be said about deer, and what they eat changes. For example, once there was big outbreak of Japanese pepper in the cedar forests on the Oshika Peninsula. I think these trees are about twenty years old by now, but they are slowly dying. They are eaten by animals too, which is one of the reasons they are dying. The dryness of the forest is really bad. Very extreme. I sometimes wonder if it was this dry before. If it catches fire and there is a breeze, the forest burns up in moments. This is a country with such an abundance of water, so I think something really strange is happening.
Shiga: What we have called “natural disasters” in the past five years, except for volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the floods caused by typhoons and heavy rains are still vivid in this regard, are almost entirely man-made disasters that human society caused by destroying the environment. While we are aware of that, it isn’t reflected in the media’s framing of the news. The changes many people are now experiencing are so drastic that our sense of the four seasons in Japan is altering. I think the level of change today is different from the abnormal weather of thirty years ago. Nuclear power plants, which had been touted as clean energy, were built all over the world in the name of the economy, causing divisions among human beings and a lot of pain. There is Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant on the Oshika Peninsula, and it has been decided that the plant will restart from 2022. It is a surprising development coming just ten years after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Onodera: Nuclear power is something I can’t accept in any way. Why are we going that far? I think everyone knows this. But even though they know, they relent because it’s for the economy.
Shiga: When I heard someone insisting that taking a “neutral” stance on nuclear power is the same as “supporting” it, this structure we create, forcing people to make a firm for-or-against decision in response to “Which side are you on?” questions, divides people and it’s very scary. To be honest, I continue to feel torn. The economic problems faced by the regional governments, which gave them no choice but to solicit nuclear power plants, involve incredibly complicated historical contexts. On the other hand, I read an article the other day that the number of wolves, which are at the top of the food chain, began to increase in the forest around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant because the area was off-limits to humans for about thirty-five years. I thought it totally makes sense; this is what happens when humans are gone.
We humans may not have left anything behind for nature. The fact that human society has survived while utilizing natural resources means that we have been constantly and one-sidedly receiving from nature. Ten years after the atom bombs were dropped on Japan, the Atomic Energy Basic Law was enacted for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and now we have sixty nuclear reactors (nine nuclear power plants are currently in operation). In this really thick book by a philosopher, I found a phrase: “Nuclear power is a belief that strongly desires to realize a life without gifting.”* It’s not good to extract only the conclusion of the book, but in regard to the “life without gifting,” I wonder if since my vitality from birth was so fragile that I can’t live without depending on people and the environment, it was really difficult for me to understand. I think it’s the same as eating a wild animal. Maybe saying this out loud might sound horrible, but somewhere in my mind, I feel this sense of despair or have this scary thought that wouldn’t it be better if people like me who have become so accustomed to a “safe, clean, and convenient” life just completely disappear. But that’s like giving up thinking, the worst thing to do. While I’m living a life based on the many gifts I receive from nature and have a sense of guilt, I’m convinced that I can’t do anything about it. Though when I get to know a person who practices a life that uses as little electricity as possible at the individual level, it seems very hopeful and inspiring to me, so I’m totally flummoxed and in this really deplorable state. Hating politics is the worst because most things are decided there. *Koichiro Kokubun, Philosophy in the Atomic Age
Onodera: Inside Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant used to be like a deer’s womb and we were asked to get rid of the deer there, but we couldn’t chase after them once they had run away into the power plant. The deer returned here after producing a lot of fawns at the site. Although traps were placed inside the plant, the deer knew by habit that it was a safe place for them because there was food like turf grass and no predators. Now that the greenery on the premises has decreased compared to the past and so many traps are set up, the deer don’t go there anymore. Well, even my own life is made possible by a system that uses electricity, and I’m running this business that can’t run without a refrigerator or freezer powered by electricity. I deny nuclear power, but electricity and nuclear power are not the same thing. It’s full of contradictions because aren’t we benefiting from it, right? It costs a lot of money to shift to solar power, and wind power also impacts us in terms of low-frequency noise and there’s the risk of things getting tangled up in the turbines. I think the best option is hydroelectricity, as it is the most natural way of generating power, but it can operate only in limited areas and so implementing it worldwide is impossible. There is also a limit to how much firewood we can use. I don’t know in what way, but I think we have to accept the contradictions of human society somehow. The “co” of co-existence, co-prosperity, and co-living is really tricky.
Shiga: I really think that the sense of “symbiosis” that you talk about is something we can’t understand unless we grasp it directly with our own bodies and based on our own experiences.
Onodera: Regardless, at the end of the day, I reject the idea of coexistence and mutual prosperity. It’s wrong that only we humans prosper.
Shiga: So you are saying that it’s suspicious that we humans are saying “together” and talking about such pretty things this late in the game?
Onodera: People say it because it sounds good.
Shiga: Animals are not necessarily thinking about “together.” “Togetherness” is different from community, isn’t it?
Onodera: Right. Even without “togetherness,” there is something that can be born just by living next to each other in the same place. What does it mean to live, including how we behave? We can’t live alone. If I were a scholar, I could say this better, but you are talking to someone like me who has no choice but to live here. I’m a person who has interactions with a very limited range of people and communities compared to ordinary people.
Shiga: But there is a difference between people like you who attempt to know by going into the trackless mountains alone and those who don’t.
Onodera: I think of the word “coexistence” as going hand in hand with “co-prosperity.” I consider them as one word. It might sound strange to a linguist, but I can only talk about what I feel with my body and I really believe this. I don’t want to admit that deer are vermin. Don’t call them vermin. If there is nothing to eat in the mountains, it’s natural for them to come down to a village and eat. Who cut the trees in the mountains and planted only cedars in the first place? It’s not equal at all.
Shiga: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me for so long today.
Onodera: Not at all. I feel bad that what I said might sound very vague. For example, though this isn’t something you’re allowed to say, it’s impossible to imagine a society that simply accepts a young child getting eaten by a bear and yet, in a way, that’s the
Reborn-Art Festival 2021-22
— Altruism and Fluidity —
【 Period 】
ONLINE ： Jan 6 (Wed) 2021 -
SUMMER ： Aug 11 (Wed/holi) 2021 - Sep 26(Sun) 2021
SPRING ： Aip 23（Sat）2022 - Jun 5（Sun）2022
※ There will be a maintenance day during the session.
【 Venue 】
ー Summer ー
Oshika peninsula（Momonoura、Oginohama、kozumihama、Ayukawa、and more...）
ー Spring ー
【 Organizers 】
Reborn-Art Festival Executive Committee,
【 Grants 】
the Agency for Cultural Affairs Government of Japan in the fiscal 2021
【 Translation 】
hanare × Social Kitchen Translation
【 Web direction 】